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Amazon swings into textiles jungle

Amazon is planning to turn up the heat on its home textiles business, targeting the segment to become one of the retailer's largest growth categories this year.

"We believe there are unique ways to drive business online," said Glenn Cunningham, director of Home & Garden. "Based on our track record in other categories, we have every expectation that we will have a business in the eight-figure range by the end of 2004."

Amazon's Home & Garden store evolved out of the 2000 launch of a virtual kitchen shop and today consists of six umbrella departments: furniture and décor, bed and bath, tools and hardware, kitchen, outdoor living and housewares.

The bedding department includes bed-in-a-bag, duvet covers, kids' bedding, blankets and throws, sheets, utility bedding, dec pillows, window treatments and inflatable beds. The department's top selling item is a full/queen down comforter from Pacific Coast Feather saled at $69.99 (50 percent off). Other top sellers include WestPoint Steven's Vellux blanket and its Patrician 250-count sheet set.

The bath department carries towels, rugs, shower curtains and bath accessories, as well as bath hardware. The top selling towel is a three-piece pima cotton set at $19.99 from Amazon retailer partner Target. Towels from Domestications, Speigel and Ralph Lauren are also among the top sellers.

"We have over 250 suppliers in Home & Garden, and over 10 key retail suppliers in the bed and bath category signed or about to be signed," Cunningham said. "Every major supplier has been targeted … and we are confident we will have all signed before the end of the third quarter."

Amazon selects merchandise based on four criteria, Cunningham said. It looks for national brands, better/best assortments, goods that are "technically complex" or that benefit from having their attributes explained, and items that are too bulky or heavy to comfortably lug through a store.

"We'll never replace touch and feel. But there's something to be said for shopping in your pajamas at 11:30 at night," he said. "And research has shown that for every dollar spent online researching (a category or item), there are an additional six dollars spent at bricks and mortar."

Amazon's Home & Garden store customer is slightly more affluent and slightly more female than the average among its 39 million active customers. The core Amazon shopper has an average household income of more than $75,000, is college-educated with some graduate school, is aged mid-40s and has two children.

Although Cunningham declined to identify which additional home textiles categories Amazon will push into first, he said the company tracks "null searches" — items customers search for that Amazon doesn't carry — to decide where to invest.

Although Amazon stocks up most heavily on the 20 percent of a vendor's items that do 80 percent of the business — and offers those goods on a one-day turnaround basis, "We also do a good job with the 80 percent," Cunningham said. Amazon works to offer more complete assortments than physical stores can carry, although those items usually ship on a two-week basis.

"Our strength so far has been with the utility bedding. Solid color sheets have also become a significant piece of the business," he said. "But we can take the kind of platform that we developed for gourmet foods — where we have 400 third-party vendors — and layer that into textiles."

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